In signing a new arms treaty with Russia and hosting a major nuclear terrorism summit, US President Barack Obama has shown leadership on his pledge to move toward a world without nuclear weapons.
But is anyone following?
At home, Obama faces a polarised Congress and a public focused on other issues, such as the economy. Although many experts think the Senate will approve the new strategic-arms treaty with Russia, prospects are dim for ratifying another Obama priority: a global pact banning nuclear tests.
Internationally, there is also a mixed picture. Obama has won kudos, and a Nobel Peace Prize, for a policy that many perceive as less belligerent than that of President George W. Bush.
Obama’s policy will face a critical test next month, when nearly 200 countries are to gather at the United Nations to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is credited with keeping a lid on the spread of nuclear weapons for four decades.
The NPT is a bargain that gives all signatories the right to nuclear power while barring them from getting a bomb; the original five nuclear powers could keep their weapons but were to take steps toward disarming. India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear weapons states, did not sign the treaty and North Korea quit it in 2003.
But it will be difficult to get tougher penalties because the NPT conference operates by consensus. Iran, which is a signatory and maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful, could block changes. To critics, the forum often becomes a place where nuclear have-nots bash the nuclear haves, no matter what they do.
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